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Film Review: Delivery Man

20 January 2014
Appeared in BioNews 738

'533 kids. One father. Something doesn't add up.'

This is the strapline for Delivery Man, a remake of the French-Canadian film 'Starbuck' (also written and directed by Ken Scott). And it sums up my feelings on the film: something doesn't add up.

David Wozniak (Vince Vaughn) is terrible at his job, in debt to the mob, and finds out his girlfriend is pregnant. Any one of these would be sufficient basis for a feature film. In Delivery Man, this is just scenery. David soon learns that he has fathered 533 children through donations he made to a sperm bank 20 years earlier. To add injury to mocking insults, 142 of his children have filed a lawsuit to learn the identity of their biological father. We follow David on his quest to 'do the right thing' by anonymously meeting several of his children. Shenanigans and apparently 'hard-hitting' moments ensue. Ethical questions are posed. Personal Growth is achieved.

The premise is absurd, but is not what lets the film down. Director Ken Scott tries to create a laugh-out-loud, thought-provoking, touching mosaic. Unfortunately, when you step back, you end up with a mess rather than a masterpiece. No theme is presented for long enough, or with sufficient skill, for it to engage with the audience. We lurch from slapstick comedy, to a touching father-daughter speech, to mob violence and back again, all in a few minutes. No one message pervades or supports the narrative.

The story touches (too briefly) on several heavy-hitting questions: how much control should the father of a child have over his involvement in their life? Are confidentiality agreements for sperm donors ethically sound when it comes to the resulting children? What would the consequences be if we denied sperm donors the right to privacy? A comedy is not the appropriate vehicle for this debate. The film neither suggests answers nor challenges the audience. We view an uncritical status quo. This is not the type of film to venture too far into the ethics of sperm donation, but the few ethical questions it did raise were more cursory nods than informed debate.

The 'unexpected pregnancy' sub-plot is particularly unsatisfying and painfully predictable. It provides two impassioned speeches on the rights of the father by Vaughn and nothing else. I found the character of Emma (played by Cobie Smulders) to be shallow and unbelievable. In one scene she seemingly breaks up with Wozniak, and then invites him to an ultrasound days later. The character's changes of heart in the final scene are so frequent and rapid they induce motion sickness.

Chris Pratt, who plays the best friend who is also conveniently a lawyer, steals the show with some of the best lines and biggest laughs. Unfortunately, these laughs are too few and far between. I wouldn't recommend paying to see this film at the cinema. Wait for release on TV.

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